Baseball Short Story
                     Is Ruth's HR Total Fair or Foul?                      
Rich Marazzi, Baseball Digest (July-August 2020)
The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth's inaugural seson with the New York Yank­ees. Ruth batted .376 in 1920 and established new modern-era highs with 54 home runs and 136 RBIs. The quintessential sports hero of the 20th century went on to hit 714 home runs in his 22-year career, a record that stood for 39 years until Hank Aaron eclipsed the total in 1974.
Although The Babe piled up home runs like cordwood, evidence suggests he was short-changed because of the fair-foul rule that existed for more of his career.
Since 1931, a batted ball has been judged fair or foul according to where it leaves the playing field. But, from the 1906 through 1930 seasons - with the exception of a couple of months in 1920 - the fair-foul rule dictated that batted balls that left the field fair and curved foul were to be ruled "foul." Umpires had the authority to rule the ball fair or foul where it was last seen.
Since Ruth played from 1914 through 1935, a large chunk of his iconic career fell under this long-since-discarded rule that certainly stripped him of home runs and impacted the most sacred record in the game.
Bill Jenkinson, a prominent baseball historian, estimates that Ruth might have lost dozens of home runs because of the pre-1931 fair-foul rule. His findings are the result of several years of exhaustive research of newspaper accounts.
"I used (newspaper) sources to determine if a ball (Ruth) hit would have been a home run by current rules," Jenkinson said. "I tried to read anywhere from three to 10 primary accounts when researching his home runs."
In 17 accounts, the facts were hard and cold where it was reported that a ball left the field fair then curved into foul territory and was ruled a foul ball. For those, Jenkinson is certain that Ruth was deprived of home runs by the rules of that era.

Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium in the 1920s
Several factors made the task of determining how many home runs Ruth lost a daunt­ing one.
"Prior to the 1920s, sportswriters were given virtually unlimited space when reporting a ballgame," Jenkinson explained. "However, with the advent of radio in the '20s, there was a finite amount of space to cover the games."
He added, "Because what we view as home runs today were often foul balls because of the rule, the long drive was simply a foul ball and the writers were not going to write about foul balls. ..."
An example of a newspaper's game account that was researched by Jenkinson reads, "On May 30, 1919, Ruth pitched the first game of a doubleheader at Shibe Park in Phila­delphia. Although he won the game, he lost what should have been his first career home run in Philadelphia. He launched a tremen­dous drive far over the right-field wall, which was fair by about five feet when it left the park. The ball landed on the house tops about 22-feet above street level. But it was declared a foul ball because the ball was foul at the time it disappeared from the umpires' vision."
In his first three seasons with the Yankees, when the team played its home games in the Polo Grounds (1920-22). Ruth recorded 148 homers (75 at home, 73 on the road), or about 21 percent of his career total. He hit 54 and 59 respectively in 1920 and 1921. In 1920, his home-run rate was an unprecedented 1 per 8.5 at-bats. There's not doubt that he occasionally was aided by the short right-field porch (then 258 feet) at his home park. But one has to wonder how many sailed over the fence inside the foul pole before curving foul? ...
It's been written that Yankee Stadium was "The House That Ruth Built." He hit 259 homers in 12 sea­sons there. Only Mickey Mantle (266) hit more, in 18 seasons. But because of the quirky fair-foul rule, Yankee Stadium was not as friendly to the "Sultan of Swat" as one might think. Let me explain.
In the years Ruth played there (1923-34), the mezzanine and upper-deck wing in right field at Yankee Stadium extended only to the foul pole. It did not wrap around the pole into fair territory until 1937. This meant there were approximately 60-70 rows of bleachers that went beyond the outfield wall in right field ...
Because of the length of the bleachers that went beyond the playing field, batted balls hit over the wall had a good chance of eventually curving foul because there was no sec­ond and third levels in fair territory in right field to intercept the ball as it curved toward foul territory. This was not in Ruth's favor.
The Babe wasn't the only one affected by the fair-foul rule. Lou Gehrig finished his career with 493 home runs before being sidelined by ALS. You could certainly make the argument that, under the current fair-foul rule, it's a safe bet that he would easily have been a member of the 500 home-run club.